open source

open-source adjective COMPUTING

denoting software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

This is a big change for me, having made a career over the span of half my adult life as a software developer and usually getting paid for doing that.  In the U.S., here’s the timeline for software development:

  1. 1980-1985:  In its infancy, the earliest software developers made software for the novelty of it.  Nobody fully understood the value of computers and this software so a market didn’t really exist yet.  There wasn’t a lot of money to be made; it was a hobby and we knew it.  This early period ended in the mid-80s when business started embracing these solutions and were willing to pay for them.
  2. 1986-1999:  In its heyday, software developers during this next period would flourish.  The advent of the Internet and website solutions largely fueled this feeding frenzy.  Programmer salaries climbed to the point of six-figures for someone good.
  3. 2000-2013:  Abruptly in 2000 at the end of Bill Clinton’s last term, a huge number of software developer jobs were suddenly outsourced to foreign countries, chiefly:  India, China and Russia.  The U.S. still hasn’t fully recovered from the job losses sustained but businesses have learned that not all outsource promises actually pay off.
  4. 2014-current:  The current trend appears to be a movement away from the (licensed) Microsoft and Mac OS operating systems to any of a number of UNIX-based systems and especially browser-only software and phone applications.  Further, this trend continues with this “no fees” mentality by abandoning earlier licensing models completely.

From a personal-reward standpoint, the open source initiative has returned full circle to our earliest days.  You make software but you don’t do it thinking about the money.  Perhaps you hope that things will just work out and some money will land in your lap somehow.  Maybe this project will lead to a paid gig somewhere, who knows?  I think most young programmers are doing it to beef up their résumé and little more.

I think I would caution U.S. programmers, though.  It’s good to make free software and to make it available to other good people who do the same.  Please know, however, that there are corporations right now who are using open source to avoid paying software developers for their livelihood.  Corporations are using someone’s free labor as a means of saving costs.  I don’t think this is what the open source founders had in mind.

Corporations are using someone’s free labor as a means of saving costs.

Is this fair?  Having been a programmer for over three decades it doesn’t feel like it’s a fair playing field right now.

In order to compete in today’s market it seems like you need to program in the world of open source.  Given the current nature of open source this means that there are others who aren’t similarly contributing and yet who still enjoy the fruit of your free labor.  They’re making money and you’re not.  That’s not Capitalism, that’s essentially Feudalism.

The cost of maintaining a computer, a good Internet connection and keeping current on the latest software costs money.  Rent is expensive especially in the tech-savvy areas of our country.  The economy already is devaluing U.S. labor across the board and has done so for a little over ten years now.  In light of all this I have to ask the rhetorical question:

Why are we now giving away our high-tech labor for free?

It strikes me as a bad strategy.  Corporations outsourced a decade ago and then, presumably, learned from their lessons that outsourcing doesn’t produce quality code.  And now that we have this golden opportunity back young U.S. programmers have decided to enter the market without being paid for their labor, further devaluing the cost of software for everyone.

We can rightly blame corporations for being too greedy over the last decade.  But we then must blame ourselves if we decide to work without being paid as an industry.  Are we so afraid of the competition of outsourced foreign labor “on the cheap” that we have to fall suit and do the same?

But we then must blame ourselves if we decide to work without being paid as an industry.

If you want to contribute to the open source initiative (as I am) then I’d strongly suggest that you don’t give everything away for free.  Seriously guys, it’s time U.S. programmers found a better compromise with the consumers of software so that we can better afford to live here.


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